Baking Bread

Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is written by a good friend and excellent baker, Alan Fishman

I woke up this morning and planned on baking some bread.  What folks these days call “artisan bread”.  Now, maybe it is, but I won’t call it that.  That’s because anything and everything can be deemed “artisan” even if it comes off a big factory production line.  It’s like calling something “old fashioned”.  Like from 1980 or 1880?

When I say that I planned on baking some bread, I don’t just mean that I awoke and I had this bright idea and some gumption to bake today.  No, no.  In this case “plan” doesn’t mean that at all.  Plan means that two days ago I mixed some levain* starter, yesterday morning I mixed almost all of the dough ingredients, and according to the recipe, today is the full mix and bake day.

Some breads can be done in a single long day, some over the course of two days, and some, like this one, take a bit more planning and an extra day.  Of course it doesn’t require 72 hours of toil.  In this case the first day consisted of a 15 minute prep and then an overnight maturing of the levain starter.  Yesterday was a 20 minute hand mix of almost all of the ingredients.  And for this particular bread, a levain baguette inspired by Phillipe Gosselin’s long cold retardation baguettes at his Parisian bakery, today was the 4 hour work day.  Which consisted of hand mixing in the remaining ingredients (in this case the salt and small amount of water), letting the dough rise and then the divide, pre-shape, final shaping (rolling the baguettes) and final rise known as the proof.  And then, and then – finally baking the baguettes.  All controlled by the kitchen timer.  In fact, in the world of breads, life’s rhythms and chores are set to the ticking of the kitchen timer.

Now, I’ll get it out up front that what I do in my spare time as my tasty hobby is done without the help of either a bread machine or a mixer (with one exception).  I’m not knocking the products, I’m just shooting for something else, something that I can put my hands on, and in, from the first.  I get a certain satisfaction out of the craftsmanship and handwork of mixing, rolling and scoring (the slashes) baguettes.

If you’ve made it this far, then you are either a food enthusiast or couldn’t find anything better to do with your morning.  Hopefully the former.  And this would seem to mean that you neither view good bread as that bleached white stuff that we all grew up with way way back, nor as just a vehicle to bulldoze your peas onto a knife.  And you also don’t believe that all of the holes in the crumb (interior) of the bread are a way of cheating the paying public out of a full loaf of bread.

The pictures are of my morning’s work. 

*levain = sourdough = masa madre = lievito madre

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